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PRACTICAL EXEGESIS. [From an article by Neander in the Deutsche Zeitschrift of Berlin,
for February, 1850.) ERRORS which have long reigned over men's minds can be properly overcome, only when the truth which underlies them is known and acknowledged, and the want from which they spring is made to understand itself and so finds the way to its true and proper satisfaction. This holds in particular of errors that are connected with the sphere of religion. And not unfrequently may we see that false views have sprung from the un conscious mingling together of different regions of life or kuowledge, both of which have their rights, while it is only by scientific consideration at the same time that they can be fairly distinguished and held apart. Such is the case with the interests of scientific and practical exegesis. Practical exegesis is something absolutely necessary for the progress of theology and church life, as it serves to mediate between the Divine word in the form of history and its relation to the present time, setting science in union with actual life and theory with practice; and we find accordingly something akin to it, or at least an effort towards it, proceeding out of the christian spirit from the beginning. But this still only in such a way that it had no proper sense of its own nature and design, no clear view of its own office, but was led rather to confound this with something else. Must we not acknowledge this to have been the case in what was called the allegorical mystical interpretation of the Bible, in the assumption of a manifold sense as lying at the bottom of its revelations? The two spheres, of what is to be styled strictly the exposition of the Scriptures and of what pertains to their practical application, fell here unconsciously into one another. The two objects, to explore the objective sense of the Divine word, and to bring this home through various applications to the present time, were not kept clearly distinct, but ran together with more or less confusion, making it impossible for either to be pursued with any right and full success. In order to this, it was necessary that there should be first a clear conscious separation of the different mental activities here in question.
When in the seventeenth century a onesided doctrinal interest, in the Lutheran church of Germany, had drawn all its own way, and the interest for exegetical study was thus completely thrust aside, an attempt was made to revive this last by pressing simply its practical importance. Over against the onesided scientific
tendency rose a onesided zeal for practice. Practical exegesis claimed to be everything. It was proposed to have the fruit, without the use of the intermediate labor required to procure it from the fruit bearing tree. We may apply to the case the beautiful words of Clement of Alexandria, where he speaks of those who expected the produce of the vine at once, without the pains which becomes the good husbandman going before. “ The Lord is allegorically the vine, from which with care and skilful culture fruit is to be obtained; we must prune, dig, bind up the branches, and do all else that the case requires, in order that this may appear for our use."
Where science and art, such as the interpretation of an ancient author requires, had not been applied under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, it was not possible to reach the objective sepse of the Divine word. For what holds in the case of any other ancient author, inust hold of God's word in the sacred scriptures also after it has once submitted itself to the law of human language. And the objective sense of the word when thus found also could not be brought into right prac. tical relation to the present, without the employment of all those aids of thought and reason which are needed for such a transfer from one form to the other. This is what we are to regard in Clement's sense as the work of the vine dresser, which is required in order that we may enjoy the fruit of the vine. Even when a distinction was inade between scientific exegesis and practical, and the first was held in honor, there was suill always a want of insight into the right relation between them. The line of transition from one to the other was not scientifically determined. And as the practical exegesis lost itself in subjective arbitrariness, the scientific on the other hand became too formal and inanimate, as not being of a nature to open the way for the application of its results to actual life, a business requiring indeed a different art. Or if the scientific interest at times did seek, in compliance with the feeling of practical need, to draw the other art at once into its own service, the exegesis became overladen with foreign matter, which was often brought in also in a purely violent way and had no growth whatever from the subject.
It is well known how in what was called practical exposition, there was often to be found indeed the expression of pious thoughts and feelings, suited to have some religious effect upon the reader; while however it was still too generally only an accidental connection, resting in the mere conceit of the interpre
"Strom. lib. I, 9.
ter, which thus prevailed after all between such application and the real objective meaning of the word from which it was drawn. The reflections and feelings brought into view were just such as had risen in a devotional and pious mind, when employed with the contemplation of a particular portion of scripture, and in this view they might be altogether true and good, nay the product even of gracious influence from the Spirit attending the prayerful study of the word; but still they were not the very sense of the word itself brought to bear on existing relations. It was always the subjective standpoint or frame of the expositor that here took the lead, not the Divine word itself as a revelation for all times, and as having force for the present also only through its capability of being the oracle at the same time of every other age. By disregarding the historical conditions of the word, in its application to the present time, exposition often ran out into tedious latitude, as we find it particularly in the so called Pietistic period, in which the German language had lost 80 much of Luther's vigorous and marrowy style, and German culture generally had become so prosy and flat. With what was truly edifying also there was a continual mixture of shallow insipidity, from an effort to improve practically that which only needed to be rightly understood and applied, to carry along with it at once the richest force in this form. Thus it is that what is ternied practical exegesis has fallen not without reason into bad repute, and seems especially not to be on good terms with cultivated taste.
Afterwards followed the so-called moral interpretation of the Rationalistic school, which lacked in addition all sympathy with the true sense of the Divine word and stood in an order of thought wholly opposed to it, pretending morally to produce first that which is itself the only fountain and source of all morality. Yet even here there lay at the bottom some truth, only to be reached however in a different way, the idea namely and the necessiiy also of a really practical use of the Bible.
Practical exegesis, as appears from what has already been said, has for its necessary condition that which is rigidly scientific and according to art. This requires in the case of any author not simply linguistic but also historical knowledge; and along with the first, without which no es position can succeed, the last forms especially the necessary basis of all sound application of the world to actual life. Every fact of literature, every word once spoken or written, belongs to history, and can be rightly understood only in its historical relations. We must seek to ascertain, what the writer or speaker meant to say under these determinate connections and conditions. Only so can we reach the true sense of the words. To be able to do this, we must translate ourselves into the very circumstances of the time when the words were spoken or writien, into the special relation of the speaker or writer to the particular circle addressed by him, as though we had before us a man of our own age. We must seek to be at home in the time concerned, as truly as we are in our own. This requires manifold studies having for their object the lively presentation of past history, and it requires also a special historical sense. Boih must go together. The historical sense or lact will not be sfficient without the toil of study; but all learning too, acquired by study, will be in vain, without the historical sense, partly an original peculiar gift in the case of some and parıly the result of proper cultivation. So long now as no right account was made of these indispensable requisites for all scientific exposition, it was not possible for practical exegesis to come to any prosperous development. When the Bible was viewed simply as a written revelation of the Holy Ghost, without regard to differences of time, men, and historical data generally; so long as only the one voice of the Spirit was heard lo speak, as though the inspiration which prompied its authors to write put thoughts into them also in a given form; so long as the human persons of the writers themselves were not heard to speak, under the force of real human relations actually their own, as free organs of the Spirit with which they were acluated; there was no room in truth to think, either of an exposition answerable to the demands of art and science, or of the practical application of this in any fair way to present circumstances and present wants. It was necessary to open the way first to the right idea of all sound biblical interpretation, by distinguishing properly between the two factors that come together in the constitution of the Divine word as we have it in the Scriptures, before it was possible to proceed from this to the right use of it for practical purposes. The old mechanical theory of inspiration either made such sound practical exegesis impossible, or at least hindered and embarrassed it greatly. If God's revelation however was spoken not for one time only, but in speaking to a past period was designed to speak at the same time to all following periods, and so to the present also among others, it follows that to understand it in this last view we must necessarily first inquire, what the Holy Ghost in choosing such and such organs, so conditioned and circumstanced, and in allowing them to speak under such and such given historical relations, designed to say for that particular time, what precise sense the revelation
carried for those to whom it was first addressed. That is in other words, we must try to understand according to the laws of historical knowledge, what these particular organs of the Holy Ghost, in virtue of their individual peculiarities and their special posture in the living bosom of their own time, had it in their mind to say. Then first can we see, how God in speaking at one time, in proclaiming his revealed truth with practical adaptation to the circumstances of a given age, bas at the same time spoken by this to our age also, since the truth carries in it always a similar relation to the laws and fundamental properties and wants of human nature. To get at this sense for our own time, we need only thus to derive the general from the particular, so as to reduce it again to the form of a particular application to the existing state of things. As both propositions are true, that there is nothing new under the sun, and that yet all must renew itself perpetually, we will need only to recognize the type of the present in that past which the organs of the Divine word addressed in speaking or writing, in order to apply it to the present time.
This however requires also that we should have a right knowledge and understanding of the present itself; for which we are to find the key in ourselves, as being in our own life united with the present and carrying in as its fundamental features, as we carry in us indeed an image of universal humanity. The case demands thus that we should be well acquainted with ourselves, and that we should descend with the Divine light into the interior depths of our own being, so as by self-knowledge to find the key for the knowledge of our age and time. We must have applied the contents of God's word first to ourselves, in order to be able to apply them to the world with which we find ourselves surrounded. As we must bring the time of the apostles before us in a present way by proper historical knowledge, in order to satisfy the requirements of scientific exposition, so must we have come to a thorough understanding of our own time also in its historical development, to be able to make the word of God a true word for its use. It must become clear to us, how the same apostle, who in relation to the practical and theoretical questions of his own day as the inspired organ of the Holy Ghost speaks thus and thus, would utter himself were he now at band in relation to the questions of our day. It must be as though we heard him actually speaking himself, and what we expound to others should make an impression on them as if they heard the apostle himself speaking iu their midst ; not as if we could presume to compare ourselves with such a man of God, but just because